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Vanity is so secure in the heart of man that everyone wants to be admired: even I who write this, and you who read this.

-Blaise Pascal

 

A friend of mine and I were surfing through the channels some months ago when we just so happened to catch a glimpse of Bravo’s brand new program called Make Me A Supermodel. What an absolute sham of a show, television on so many fronts has become nothing more than a stage for runaway narcissistic-selfish living and it is why the vast majority of television shows make my skin crawl.  

And once again, I wasn’t disappointed. 

There is more disgusting stuff than wholesome when it comes to entertainment choices anymore.

A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life.  (Proverbs 13:7, The Message Bible)

The few minutes we treated ourselves to showcased a woman going in to see the plastic surgeon for a breast reduction, common place practice I understand.  I’d say the woman they were chronicling on this particular episode was in her late-thirties and she was an attractive lady, but her fascination with just how perfect she could look made her much less so.  I’d say she didn’t need the surgery in the first place—this procedure she now was having was a reduction.  She was going on and on about her breast size and how she’d had enlargements done some time ago—it had become a bit tiring for her with all of the glances she and her seemingly unfazed husband had to endure.  She now wanted these distractions sized down to a less noticeable size to meet some new standard she apparently had for herself.  I was finding it hard to feel sorry for her I must admit.

What caught my attention was this woman’s comment—My tits are my best asset. She sort of sounded proud about it actually (as if the few thousand bucks she shelled out or someone else invested in these so-called assets made her someone).  I find it really tragic that anyone would have such a low view of themselves. 

This line of thinking typifies a rising segment of our culture if we are honest; a culture fixated on outward appearances and everything trivial. If anything, we value the trite and the unimportant while we ignore or disregard that which is sacred and holy. And to be perfectly honest, it’s not just us men who are to blame for a culture so animalistic and shallow.

It is all of us. 

What defines you?  

The question I am confronted with after watching such carnage is not a comfortable one: How much do my values reflect those espoused on shows like ‘Make Me A Supermodel’?

Change me Lord, I’d rather be a ‘regular Joe’.

I’m in this race to win a prize
The odds against me
The world has plans for my demise
What they don’t see
Is that a winner is not judged by his small size
But by the substitute he picks to run the race
And mines already won

-Audio Adrenaline, Underdog

 

I was out walking one night last year while living right around the corner from Vanderbilt, one of the great institutions of learning—thought maybe I’d pick up some knowledge by osmosis living near-by.  It didn’t work out quite that way. A route I would often take passed by the university’s track where several runners and budding track-stars would be slogging around the black top covered oval at any given time of the day out there making their rounds in pursuit of some worthy goal.  One night I noticed a considerably younger girl trailing a pack of older girls, she wasn’t all that far behind, but far enough that it looked as if she had no shot at catching them.  For all I know, the young girl had been lapped several times over.  She was giving it her all and it was obvious she was in hot pursuit to catch these girls, no matter the odds.  It was moving.

What gave me goose bumps was not this young runner as much it was the man I noticed jogging up and down around the middle of the track.  He was intent on motivating these girls as he barked out encouragement.  I couldn’t hear him, but I am sure he was pulling for this little girl, just like I was. 

Even if she didn’t win, I wanted to see her catch up and challenge the group she lagged behind.

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!    (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, The Message)

I got to thinking as I walked on past that track and further down the road, that I am an underdog myself in many ways—sort of like that girl.  Be it my average to less than average size, my education, or my lack of it.  Certainly my meager income has me feeling a little dis-advantaged at times, that is, when I have an income.  And I don’t always consider my personal brokenness and my many shattered dreams any kind of asset much of the time.

God’s like that coach or dad in the middle of the track, you know.   Cheering us on.   Calling us forward.   Motivating us to stretch irregardless of our limitations.  Even if we do trail the runners ahead.  And when we think there is no possible way to catch them, God believes we can pass them.

If you feel like an underdog, take heart.

God is for the underdogs.

Truth exists; only lies are invented.

-Horatius Bonar

 

When you stand before a judge in court or a minister in a church you are expected to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.   

Some of us lean towards making the good news so bad that one would have to live for tragic endings to otherwise good stories to think our version of the gospel story was anything but horrific and hopeless news.  And then there are the rest  of us, we make the gospel message into nothing more than Disneyland on steroids—pay your small entry fee and eat cotton-candy to your hearts delight.

There is a third way: The Gospel is better news than we could ever dream up in a million lifetimes.  We would never write the story-line, just due to the simple fact that the gospel paints man as a dirty-rebel criminal to the core.  When we do get a grip on the story, man might be fallen, but he’s been a good fallen guy.   And Jesus came to save him because he was a nice Savior and he just couldn’t help but want to help such good-intentioned sinners.    

The whole story is that the unbearable burden Jesus came to take off of our shoulders (our being under sin’s curse and our obligation to the old law) didn’t happen with the snapping of God’s fingers—it happened as the result of great pain and suffering.  How conveniently we gloss over that bloody truth, Jesus was separated from his Father on our behalf.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
   and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his stripes we are healed.                                    (Isaiah 53:4-5, ESV)

You can tell half-truths.  You can bend the truth.  You can even try and hide the truth.  But one thing you cannot do with the whole truth is be selective with it.   

The good news isn’t happenstance—it is the net result of Jesus voluntarily laying down his life and allowing his torturers to have a field day.  The Resurrection was proceeded by bloodshed and our personal redemption depends on it.

Don’t forget the whole story.

It must be our anxious care, whenever we are ourselves pressed, or see others pressed by any trial, instantly to have recourse to God. And again, in any prosperity of ourselves or others, we must not omit to testify our recognition of God’s hand by praise and thanksgiving. Lastly, we must in all our prayers carefully avoid wishing to confine God to certain circumstances, or prescribe to him the time, place, or mode of action. In like manner, we are taught by [the Lord’s] prayer not to fix any law or impose any condition upon him, but leave it entirely to him to adopt whatever course of procedure seems to him best, in respect of method, time, and place. For, before we offer up any petition for ourselves, we ask that his will may be done, and by so doing place our will in subordination to his, just as if we had laid a curb upon it, that, instead of presuming to give law to God, it may regard him as the ruler and disposer of all its wishes.

-John Calvin

     

I was praying recently and all sorts of thoughts started racing through my head.  Anyone who has been praying for any amount of time knows what I am talking about.  But I’m not talking about the laundry list of things we have to do after we finish up our conversation with the Creator of the Cosmos.  I’m talking about the thoughts from the accuserour accuser.  He whispers, your prayer isn’t long enough, it’s not about the right stuff, it’s not sincere enough—and on and on.  And if we listen long enough to the bogus accusations, sooner or later we’ll throw our hands up and quit.  

Not to trivialize prayer, but I think it can be likened to every day examples in some instances.   It is said that when you get on a motorcycle everything else around you gets tuned out because of the focus it takes to operate a bike safely out on the open road.  Well, whatever it takes—we need to find out what our motorcycle is and jump on it when it comes to prayer.

 And rising very early in the morning,while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.   (Mark 1:35, The Message Bible) 

If Jesus had to separate himself from the every day distractions of life in his attempts to spend time in prayer—doesn’t it make sense that we might need to do likewise?

The fewer the words, the better the prayer.

-Martin Luther

 

Homer Simpson, the knuckle-headed star of the animated comedy The Simpsons prays, Dear Lord, The gods have been good to me. For the first time in my life, everything is absolutely perfect just the way it is. So here’s the deal: You freeze everything the way it is, and I won’t ask for anything more. If that is okay, please give me absolutely no sign. Okay, deal. In gratitude, I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no sign. Thy will be done.            

Unfortunately that sounds more like our praying than we like admitting. 

Apparently Jesus did some of his own teaching on prayer.

 “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

  The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

   Our Father in heaven,
   Reveal who you are.
   Set the world right;
   Do what’s best— as above, so below.
   Keep us alive with three square meals.
   Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
   Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
   You’re in charge!
   You can do anything you want!
   You’re ablaze in beauty!
      Yes. Yes. Yes.     (Matthew 6:5-13, The Message Bible)

Our praying isn’t about our ability to pray prayers that are more eloquent, and it certainly isn’t longer prayers we need. 

Prayer is about God hearing from us, and more importantly, our hearing from him.   

Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth; help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart.

-Martin Luther

 

Recently the following ended up in my email.  I don’t remember who sent it, which news agency reported it (if any)—or if it is really true—but the story serves a purpose either way. 

In a small Texas town (Mt. Vernon), Drummond’s Bar began construction on a new building to increase their business.  The local Baptist church started a campaign to block the bar from opening with petitions and prayers.  Work progressed right up till the week before opening when lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.

The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, until the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the  church was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, either through direct or indirect actions or means.  The church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building’s demise in its reply to the court.

As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork.  At the hearing he commented, “I don’t know how I’m going to decide this, but as it appears from the paperwork, we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that does not.”

I have wondered of late about why it is that we pray so little.  And my conclusion has been rather off the wall maybe, but to me, it makes perfect sense.  We know oursleves well enough to know that our praying can’t be all that impressive to God—try as we might to impress him, impress ourselves, and impress others with it.  So, we don’t pray knowing that we just can’t make the prayer grade if you will.

 1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”   (Luke 11:1, ESV)

Lord, teach us to pray. 

a blog about radical discipleship, the gospel of grace, a theology of the cross, Christian spirituality, the mission of the church in this world and whatever else on the same wave length that may be running around the brain of a hopeful Protestant.

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